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Preventing Cabin Fever

When the temperature outside drops and the weather is dreadful, dogs and their humans both end up spending more time indoors. Cooped up pups can get bored, and as any dog owner can attest, bored dogs will find ways to entertain themselves—for better or worse. How can you keep your dog busy and active during the long winter months?

1- Make your dog work for their food

Give your dog ways to channel their problem-solving skills into appropriate outlets so they won’t take it out on the couch cushions. Treat-dispensing interactive toys like the Kong® Wobbler or Buster® Food Cube are a great way to feed your dog while providing mental stimulation. Toss kibble in the puzzle and let the dog whack, nose, push, and shove it around to earn their meal. Another option is to soak kibble in water, then stuff your dog’s meals into marrow bones or Kongs® and freeze them. Frozen meals will take even longer to get out, which means your dog is working harder. You can even get creative! Add some water, plain yogurt, peanut butter, carrots, peas, or whatever else your dog loves.

2- Work on training

How energized do you feel after a long day at work or school? Mental exercise is still exercise! (Be sure to subtract any additional treats received during the day from your dog’s meals.) Keep a supply of treats on hand or use your dog’s daily ration of kibble. Think about skills you would like your dog to have and what behaviors they could perform to achieve them. For example, if your dog jumps up on people, work on “sit” throughout the winter until it’s second nature for them to sit in all situations. When the weather’s nice and you go out to practice, your dog will have a long history of sitting to help them succeed. Trick training is a perfect way to have fun and bond with your dog. Great training videos are available online at trainer Emily Larlham's Youtube page and Training should always be fun and enjoyable. No one enjoys learning in a stressful, painful or scary environment. Use plenty of treats, work at a level where your dog is consistently succeeding, and tell your dog how smart and wonderful they are throughout your training sessions. If you start to feel frustrated or your dog isn’t catching on, take a break and do something else.

3- Make use of stairs or hallways

You can still get a great workout indoors, it just might require some creativity! Take advantage of stairs or hallways in your home by using them in games. Play fetch by throwing your dog’s toy down the stairs. If your dog knows nose targeting (video here), have them “nose” at the top of the stairs and throw the treat to the bottom. Running up and down stairs over and over can tire anyone out! If you don’t have stairs, use the longest hallways or widest room available.

4- Set up an indoor obstacle course

Get creative and set up a fun course for your dog to complete. Jump on and off the couch three times, crawl under the chair, jump over a box, balance on a step stool for five seconds, roll over two times and catch a ball in midair! Be sure to use lots of high-value treats, praise, and tug games to keep your dog happy and motivated throughout the process.

5- Give their nose a workout

We all know dogs have a great sense of smell, why not use it for something besides other dogs’ rear ends? Hiding treats and toys gives your dog a mental, physical and nasal workout. Start off easy by hiding a treat in plain sight and then releasing your dog to “go find it.” As they catch on, make it harder by hiding the treat where it isn’t obvious. Continue to raise the stakes as your dog improves. You can even add props to the scene with boxes, blankets, or other objects. If cabin fever is getting the best of you, contact a qualified positive trainer. Visit for tips on choosing a trainer or for a listing of trainers in your area.

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